Good things should happen to good people. Bad things should happen to bad people. That’s just basic karma…
It’s a tempting belief system because it satisfies our sense of justice. ‘Oh, he’s going to get it!’ or ” She got what she deserves” feels satisfactory. But this fails in a very important regard. Our sense of justice is based on how we judge a behavior; we cannot see people’s internal process, nor can we see the final results of their actions, or all the different angles it manifests. Our ability to tell what is good and bad is compromised by own perceptions, views, and biases. Even if karma were true, we wouldn’t be able to tell. We are just too limited in how we interpret cause and effect.
Oh, but wait. When we THEN add our sense of self-righteous judgment, then our idea of justice becomes even more skewed. People aren’t really “good.” Sure, some people are more well behaved than others; some may actually commit “good” acts…but no one is perfect. So if they aren’t perfect, then what are they? When we consider someone “good” we are not implying they are perfect. We are saying that the bad they do falls within “an acceptable immorality” that doesn’t offend us. Which is fine; we all have a moral comfort zone. I’ll hang out with liars over killers any day, but that doesn’t make liars good; it just makes them, at best, seem less “bad”.
Unfortunately, this deeply unfulfilling belief system doesn’t just show up in Hinduism and Buddhism. Many Christians also believe that being “good” is an attainable feat. This makes reading the Bible and understanding it very, very difficult.
For instance, 1 John 3:7 says, “Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Christ is righteous.” If we think that people truly are “good”, then we may read this to say “The one who lives a completely righteous life without falling short at any time is righteous, just like Christ, who also lived a completely righteous life.”
But that’s not what this verse says. In fact, Jesus himself states that “None but God is good”1 and “our righteousness is as filthy rags”2. And of course, Paul reminds us of David’s writings, that there is “not one who does good”.3 Paul, THE prolific minister himself, lamented “who will deliver me from this body of death”.4
But if we think ‘being good’ and getting a reward for being good is what God has asked from us, then we will misinterpret these admonitions. This, in my experience, is exhausting. It causes us to not only reject the Word of God, but creates a deep sense of spiritual apathy and depression. If being “good” is the only goal, and the only way that you justify your belief system as a Christian… this is very dangerous and gets worse:
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:30
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4
Does His commandments feel light to you? Have you overcome the world? Without the correct perspective, these words of promise seem like an impossible task to fulfill. In our hearts, these scriptures of promise and life fall on hard ground; like seeds scattered on land that hasn’t been tilled, they never get a chance to take root. We aren’t “good enough yet”. We tell ourselves maybe if we were better Christians, then it would be easy and that spirituality wouldn’t be burdensome. If we were truly born again, we’d be… perfect. And sadly, our religious ideologies cause us to reject the love offered by God in favor of pursuing that thing that we never achieve… being “good” i.e our own righteousness.
We seek to be good people, and all we can do is condemn others to make ourselves feel better. We seek to reach some standard, but find that it is not only dramatically impossible but entirely unsustainable. We seek goodness apart from seeking God, and we fail…every time. Because there is no goodness apart from God; we have failed to seek His righteousness.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
That is our goal. That covers us. That is what we become. Not our righteousness, but HIS. After all, no one but God is good. And so when we read our first verse again:
Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Christ is righteous. 1 John 3:7
We understand. More importantly, GOD understands. As humans, we can be tricked, and so we are cautioned to be both humble, childlike, and alert. We can be fooled due to our own hubris. What this verse says is that anyone who practices His righteousness…not their own… that they are righteous, just like Christ…who practiced his Father’s righteousness… not his own.
When we see God revealed in someone’s actions, we should recognize that as His righteousness. Even with our own behaviors, we should not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that our own unrighteousness nullifies God’s work. God specializes in unclean, unwashed, unrighteous vessels. But when that vessel, which is perceived as cracked, pours Living Water… praise God.
Jesus pleaded with the people when he said, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” -John 14:11. He showed them God’s works and they did not see Him as righteous, even though Jesus was sinless. Do not make the same mistake. When you recognize God at work, do not be confused just because the person has flaws. The only question worth asking is “do they have God’s righteousness,” because that is the only righteousness they should be seeking anyway. This doesn’t free them of their own imperfections; it glorifies God despite their imperfections. God works with the dirty. And we are all dirty.
On the same token, do not believe that just because a person makes you comfortable and impresses you with their personal presentation, that they are now qualified to work under their own sense righteousness. They aren’t “good”. They just package their filth better. Seek God.
When you recognize God is at work in your life, do not be confused. True, you are personally, unmistakenly, irrefutably unrighteous. But when you work under the banner of the Creator, it should be clear that you have God’s righteousness. I think the key word in the scripture above is “practice”. We practice God’s righteousness as He sanctifies us in our calling. You are going to miss some shots. The most import thing is that you are in the gym. To oversimplify a deep theological concept: God’s righteousness is realizing you are not “good” but being obedient and submissive to His will anyway…and repenting when you fall short.
Which brings us back to karma, and why it’s illogical. There are no good people. There is only a good God. That means that good things happen to bad people. It doesn’t matter whether that “badness” is within our comfort zone or not. Bad things happen to bad people. Doesn’t matter if their “good” falls short of our moral measurements for their behaviors. Bad things happen to EVERYONE because we all deserve it. But often, even how we view “bad” is wrong because everything that we perceive as negative may not be due to God’s anger…. sometimes, it’s just part what makes your story incredible.
And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him. John 9:3
But karma is appealing for a reason. We want to see the good guys win and the bad guys lose. That’s how our brains are wired; let’s just remember that that is something that generally happens at the end of the story. Without the galactic perspective needed, you have no idea how to judge. Why would you anyway? After all your own story isn’t over.
1 Luke 18:19
2 Isaiah 64:6
3 Romans 3:10
4 Romans 7:24